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I know my hometown doesn't have the best reputation. After all, we sometimes get called the "Mistake on the Lake." The idea of Cleveland being a center of tourism was such a joke, a local comedian made a fake tourism video when Cleveland hosted the MLB all-star game. But that perception is finally starting to change. National Geographic ranked Cleveland as one of the best places in the world to visit in 2018. Cleveland has beaches, an amusement park, museums, theatre, and a national park within an hour's drive. We are a city that has something for everyone.  




Cedar Point


If you are a roller coaster fanatic, you need to visit Cedar Point, the "Roller Coaster Capital of the World." Cedar Point has 18 roller coasters. They also have plenty of stuff for the little ones. They have 3 kids' areas with plenty of rides that even my 20 month old could enjoy. Cedar Point also has a water park, a beach, and stage shows. In the fall, they have a family friendly Halloween event with trick or treating, face painting and lots of special treats! Because it gets really cold and snowy in the winter in Cleveland, Cedar Point is generally not open from November to April, and only on the weekends in May, September and October. I wouldn't want to ride a roller coaster in January in Cleveland anyway, your face would freeze! Cedar Point is about an hour west of Cleveland. 


Top Thrill Dragster

Top Thrill Dragster is a little too intense for my tastes, I'll stick with things that don't go double the speed of my car. Photo Courtesy of Skyler Gerald on Unsplash



The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame


No guide to Cleveland would be complete without mentioning The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

If you're wondering why The Rock Hall is in Cleveland, it's because the term "Rock N Roll" was made popular by a Cleveland DJ named Alan Freed, and Cleveland won a USA today poll asking where the Rock Hall should be built, by a landslide. 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has exhibits on 6 floors, including The Garage, where you can try out various instruments for yourself. (The Garage is closed right now due to COVID restrictions. You can check on it's status online before you go). One of my favorite exhibits is the Power of Rock, which features footage of past inductions, with special effects that make you feel like you're seeing a live performance. Some exhibits do feature uncensored Rock and Roll history, so there's some language. Look for family fun days on Sundays in the summer. Family fun days are usually hosted on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Plaza, which by the way is shaped like a record player, and features chalk art, live music, and more!


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock Hall was supposed to be built downtown, but it was built on Lake Erie instead.



The Great Lakes Science Center is next door, and is definitely worth a visit if your kids are science buffs. The Science Center features hundreds of live science exhibits, a steamship and a NASA visitor center. 


Pro Tip: If you're visiting the Rock Hall or the Science Center on a Sunday in the fall, check the Cleveland Browns schedule to see if they are playing at home. The stadium is right next door, and Clevelanders really like to tailgate, so traffic and parking will be a challenge on game days.



The West Side Market and Ohio City


The West Side Market is home to many small businesses and food vendors. It's over 100 years old! Some of my personal favorites are The Orale Mexican food stand, and Christmas Ale Bacon, which is sold at the butcher stands. Make sure you visit in the morning, most of the best food is sold out by lunch time. The aisles at the market are a little tight, this isn't the place to take your double stroller if you can help it. 


Campbell's Popcorn Factory has a location inside the West Side Market, but their flagship store is just up the road. They sell gourmet popcorn in a wide variety of flavors, as well as gourmet chocolates and amazing cupcakes. The cupcakes are some of the best cupcakes in the city. I loved them so much we served them at our wedding instead of a more traditional cake. Trust me on this one, you'll want to try a Wedding Cake Vanilla Cupcake or a Red Velvet Cupcake. 


The security guards at my reception were super excited when my mom offered them some leftovers!


When you're done shopping at the market, you can walk up the street to get Mitchell's Ice Cream. Their Ohio City location also doubles as an ice cream factory. You can watch the ice cream being made from several windows! To be around fewer people, and a better view of the factory, take your ice cream upstairs.  


If you have a kid-free evening, check out Great Lakes Brewing Company. They have lots of delicious beers brewed in house, and you can take a tour of the factory. If you're in town while the Christmas Ale is in season, don't bother looking at a menu, that's what you want, trust me.



West Side Market

The West Side Market is a great destination for snacks and so much more.





Playhouse Square


Did you know that Cleveland has the second biggest theatre district in the United States? (After Broadway). We do, and we get amazing shows every year! We've had Hamiliton, The Lion King, Wicked, and many more at Playhouse Square. I'm a big theatre buff, so I can say first hand that the tickets are very reasonably priced. I know several people that have made weekend trips to Cleveland just to see a show at Playhouse Square. 



Chandelier, Playhouse Square

Taking a selfie with the giant chandelier at Playhouse Square is a right of passage for Clevelanders. Photo courtesy of Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash


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The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo


Our Zoo has a few features that are unique. The Cleveland Zoo features a huge indoor 2 story rainforest, which is a perfect escape from our long, cold winters. They also have an elephant crossing, and you can feed a giraffe in the African Savannah section. In July and August every year, the Zoo hosts an Asian Lantern Festival, which is one of our favorite events in Cleveland. The lanterns are beautiful, the food is delicious, and the show is fun and full of great talent. 



Picture of flower lanterns

The Asian Lantern Festival at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is one of my favorite events in Cleveland  © Emily Householder Stacey



Professional Sports


Tickets to watch The Browns, Indians and Cavaliers are very affordable.  A friend from Chicago told me that it was cheaper for him to fly to Cleveland, get a hotel for the weekend and buy tickets at Progressive field than it was to buy similar tickets at Wrigley Field! The Cleveland Browns even offer family-friendly sections where no alcohol is permitted. 



Progressive Field

Progressive Field is home to the Cleveland Indians, as well as home to a smaller version of most of Cleveland's best restaurants. You can get way more than just a hot dog here! Photo Courtesy of Chris Chow


Where to Stay:

Bringing Fido? Then check out The 9, which features an indoor dog park. The 9 is where NFL teams stay when they are town, so you know it's nice! ($225-300 a night). If you want to visit both Cedar Point and Cleveland, Elyria is a great half way point. I like the  Courtyard in Elyria ($100-125), but there are plenty of good options. If you're catching a show, check out the Wyndham at Playhouse Square, its walking distance to most of the stadiums downtown too!


Where to Eat


Your kids are going to love Melt Bar and Grilled. Don't let the word bar fool you, Melt is very kid-friendly, they have a great kids menu and plenty of high chairs! Melt serves up gourmet grilled cheese, and so much more. It's worth mentioning that the portions are huge, I always have at least half of my meal for leftovers. If sandwiches aren't your thing, then head over to Little Italy and try out Mama Santa's Fettuccine Alfredo. 



When You Go:


The easiest way to get to Cleveland from Southern California is to fly into Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Cleveland does have a rail and bus system, but I would highly recommend renting a car or using Uber while in town. 






A Locals Guide to Cleveland. Get the best of family fun and find the best things to do in Cleveland with kids.

A Locals Guide to Cleveland. Get the best of family fun and find the best things to do in Cleveland with kids.



Emily Householder Stacey is a writer, travel agent and mom based in sunny Cleveland, Ohio. Emily runs Aida's Adventures travel agency while her son takes his afternoon nap. She has traveled throughout Australia, Asia and North America and the rest of the world is on her bucket list. Emily and her family love a good theme park. They have annual passes to 6 of them!